Excerpt from the June issue of Heels Down Magazine.
It has been nearly a decade since an American rider won a CCI4*. The last four-star victory for Team U.S.A. was snagged by Phillip Dutton and Connaught at the 2008 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, a competition that consistently holds the highest number of American entries but nonetheless has fallen claim to foreign riders all but 6 times since becoming a CCI4* in 1998. This year, 67 percent of riders who completed Rolex were Americans, but the top three podium spots were held by Germany, France and Great Britain.
Certainly there have been close calls in recent years – Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville finished second at England’s Burghley CCI4* in 2012, and Boyd Martin finished third at the German CCI4* Luhmühlen in 2014 – but the trophy is just out of reach.
If anyone knows how to win, it’s Bruce Davidson Sr. – the most prolific American event rider in history. A member of the U.S. Eventing Hall of Fame, he is one of only two Americans to ever win the Badminton Horse Trials, was the first American to win the World Championships at Burghley, won the World Championships back-to-back, and was the U.S.’s leading event rider from 1980-1995.
As the evidence suggests, he explains, the American system to develop winning CCI4* athletes simply isn’t working. Bruce shed light on the holes in athlete development.
On the American cross-country performance at Rolex:
“I think one of the biggest factors [at Rolex this year] was the condition of the horses. Either they don’t have enough [Thoroughbred] blood or they hadn’t been conditioned well enough. Sitting on the sidelines, you can’t really say which of those things is the answer, but there were way, way, way too many horses that coming to the finish line knackered. The committee should have pulled them up or at least given them a yellow card.
I’ll give you an example. In my day, for a very long time I don’t think the riders ever protested anything at Badminton [Horse Trials] except this: we needed a longer pull up lane [at the end of cross-country] because it was made too short and we couldn’t get pulled up in that amount of time (because the horses were still going strong). That wouldn’t have been the case here, would it? Certainly the sport didn’t give you that impression. I’m not sure who didn’t do the job and/or they’re using horses that don’t have enough blood. To me, there were just too many tired horses.”
On waiting to be competitive at home before entering foreign four-stars:
“All it’s doing is exposing our weaknesses. We haven’t won too many foreign events that I can think of, can you? So why are we sending [horses and riders to foreign four-stars] before they’re ready? What are they getting out of it other than a very nervous experience?